Daily News-July 22 - 2001- Sunday

  • Activists push for Southeast Asian rights commission
  • Indian human rights activists not allowed to meet Burma detainees
  • Ottawa embassy employees kept busy in hot summer sun
  • Myanmar expecting help from ADB
  • Chins welcome long-awaited admission to world body
  • Agriculture sector hit by sky-high oil and gas prices
  • Malaysia petronas set to take control premier oil
  • Singapore fire Killed three Burmese
  • Suu Kyi rains on Rangoon's parade

  • Activists push for Southeast Asian rights commission

    HANOI, July 21 (AFP) - Non-governmental organisations held talks with Southeast Asian governments here Saturday on setting up a joint body to assess human-rights abuses in the region, whose nations range from democracies to dictatorships.

    NGO activists said they reminded senior government officials that they had submitted a draft agreement to set up a human-rights mechanism a year ago during the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok.

    Wigberto Tanada, a spokesman for the NGOs which have banded into a working group to push for the establishment of the body, said ASEAN governments had referred the draft to several think tanks for further study. Tanada, a Filipino human-rights lawyer and former senator, said he hoped the think tanks would come up with their recommendations "within a few months". He said the different levels of political and economic development of the 10 ASEAN members, as well as their policy of non-interference in each other's affairs, were potential hurdles to the establishment of the rights commission.

    "Other regions already have their own human-rights mechanisms, in Europe, in the Americas, in South Africa and it is only Asia-Pacific that has no such mechanism," Tanada told reporters after the meeting, which came ahead of this year's ASEAN foreign ministers' gathering starting on Monday.

    "But realising that there is so much diversity in this Asia-Pacific region we are starting with the ASEAN sub-region and then later on expand," he said.

    According to the draft agreement, the commission would have the power to recommend to governments the adoption of measures in favour of human rights, to investigate violations and lodge complaints regarding alleged abuses.

    Param Cumaraswamy, chairman of the Malaysian working group, told AFP that some countries might object to the commission's powers to investigate abuses. "That will be a problem. Many governments find it a bit difficult. ASEAN does not like interference," he said. "But never mind, we will discuss it. But the important thing is that we need to continue discussions towards getting a common stand for a mechanism."

    Tanada said he found it surprising that the ASEAN officials welcomed their group at Saturday's meeting as human rights was a sensitive issue for ASEAN, which counts military-ruled Myanmar along with communist Vietnam and Laos among its members. "Government officials warmly welcomed us and were open on the issue," he told AFP. "We were surprised." ASEAN also comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

    The London-based campaign group Amnesty International urged ASEAN and its security partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum, which also convenes in Hanoi this week, to put human rights firmly on the agenda."Amnesty International has long argued that human-rights violations have been the root cause of much instability and violence in Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, East Timor, the Philippines and Myanmar," it said in a statement Friday.
    Indian human rights activists not allowed to meet Burma detainees in Port Blair

    Kolkata, July 21, 2001
    Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com)

    A delegation of Indian human rights group based in Kolkata (Calcutta) was recently denied access to 36 Burma nationals (Arakanese and Karens) who have been detained in Andamans Islands in India since February 1998.

    The two members delegation led by Mr. Sujato Bhadra and Mr. Bhaskar Sen of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) visited Port Blair in the Andamans Islands in second week of this month to enquire into the latest situation of Burmese detainees.

    According to a press release issued in the Islands on July 15, the secretariat members of APDR met Mr.M.K.Agrawal, the S.P. of Andaman & Nicobar police and Mr.Balbir Singh, the chief Secretary in connection with the Burmese detainees. However, the local administration officials had refused to divulge any information regarding the safety, well being and status of the 36 detainees and details of cases pending against them.

    They even refused to allow us to meet them, said the press release.We failed to understand how furnishing technical and official details about them could cause any prejudice or threat to the security of India, said Mr. Sujato Bhadra.

    The 36 Burmese nationals, belonging to two anti-Bumrse junta armed groups - National United Party of Arakan and Karen National Union, were arrested in February 1998 during a well-publised Operation Leech, jointly launched by the Indian navy, air force and Coast Guards in the Andamans Islands. The Indian armed forces at that time claimed that it was a successful operation against the “international gunrunners”.

    However, the detainees claim that one Indian military intelligence officer Lt. Col. Grewal promised them the offer of Landfall Island in the Andamans to use as their base in their fight against the Burmese junta. Col. Grewal, after taking thousands of US dollars and gold from the Burmese rebels betrayed them. They alleged that six of their leaders were shot dead and all their weapons were also seized by the Indian armed forces during the operation.

    The human rights group APDR, founded in 1972, has strongly protested over such bureaucratic and arbritary attitude of the local administration.
    Ottawa embassy employees kept busy in hot summer sun

    Burma Courier No. 279 ( Jul 15 - 21, 2001)

    OTTAWA, Jul 13 (CNS)-Myanmar Embassy employees had their work cut out for them in the hot summer days, as Ottawa posties delivered five boxes of mail addressed to Myanmar’s Head of State, Senior General Than Shwe.

    The boxes, forwarded by the Canadian Friends of Burma in Ottawa, contained more than 11,000 postcards from Canadians asking Than Shwe to intervene in order to secure the long overdue release from prison of student leader Min Ko Naing.

    Attempts by concerned citizens to personally deliver more than 6,000 of the cards in March this year were sloughed off by an embassy receptionist.

    Since then, 5,000 additional cards have been received. This time, members of the Postal Workers’ Union guaranteed that the delivery would be completed and it was.
    Myanmar expecting help from ADB

    Burma Courier No. 279 ( Jul 15 - 21, 2001)

    Based on news from Reuters and the Myanmar Times: July 16, 2001

    RANGOON -- Myanmar’s military government is optimistic that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will soon resume assistance to the impoverished country, the English-language Myanmar Times newspaper said on Monday.

    The newspaper quoted an unidentified senior government official as saying Rangoon had patched up relations with the ADB and expected loans and technical assistance grants to resume soon.But an ADB spokesman said in a statement there had been no change in its position, and while there had been some positive developments in the country, no decision had been taken to resume aid. "The ADB is monitoring the situation carefully. Any decision on resuming assistance to Myanmar will be made by our board of directors, representing 59 member countries,'' the spokesman said.

    The Manila-based ADB has not extended any loans to Myanmar since 1986, and has not offered any technical assistance since 1987. Analysts and diplomats say Myanmar is desperately in need of increased investment and more foreign exchange.

    The Times article said that regular visits to the country have been made by officials of the Manila-based ADB. It noted that the ADB had prepared a Country Assistance Plan (CAP) for Myanmar for 2001-2003 last year, following consultations with the military government and other stakeholders, including non-government organizations. It quoted the unnamed government official as saying that Myanmar was waiting for the final draft of a report on the country’s development affairs prepared by the ADB and had suggested changes to the report during a visit by an ADB mission in May.

    At the ADB annual meeting in Honolulu in May, Finance Minister Khin Maung Thein urged the ADB to resume assistance as soon as possible, saying the country was struggling with limited resources to take care of "basic human needs". But an ADB spokesperson said afterwards the bank’s board of directors was of the view that "conditions are not yet appropriate" to resume lending to Myanmar. The ADB’s annual report issued in April warned that unless comprehensive and consistent structural reforms were undertaken by the government, the country’s economy would remain vulnerable. It urged the military government to take steps to correct the "highly distorted" foreign exchange market for the kyat and to strengthen the banking sector. There are no signs that this advice has been followed.
    Chins welcome long-awaited admission to world body

    Courier News Service: July 20, 2001

    THE HAGUE-Chin people throughout the world have warmly welcomed their admission to membership in the Unrepresented Nations’ and People’s Organization.

    The decision to admit the Chins, as well as the Khmer-Krom people of Cambodia, was announced by the steering committee of the UNPO on July 15. The Chin application, under consideration for more than five years, was made by the Chin National Front, a political group based on the Chin-Mizoram border.

    The UNPO, headquartered in the Netherlands, now has 52 members representing over a 100 million people worldwide. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, it claims 17 member nations including the Chins, the Karennis, the Mons, the Nagas and the Shan state peoples who live within the borders of the Union of Burma.

    It is estimated that there are more than a million and a half Chins living in western Burma and scattered in exile in other parts of the world. The Chin National Front, headed by Thomas Thangno will be represented in meetings of the UNPO by its Foreign Secretary, Zo Tum Hmung, who said he looked forward to working closely with the international body.

    The Chin people have long jealously guarded their claim to autonomy and self-rule in the area of Burma in which they live. But in 1948 their leaders joined with those of the Kachin, Shan, Karenni and the peoples of central Burma in signing the Panglong Agreement that cleared the way for the formation of the Union of Burma and independence from British rule. Successive military regimes in Burma have since stamped out any overt sign of Chin political nationalism, locked up hundreds in prison and driven thousands more to seek exile or to join in armed revolt against Rangoon domination.

    Pu Lian Uk, exiled Member of Parliament for Hakha constituency, welcomed the news of UNPO membership, saying that it reached beyond the CNF to all of the Chin people. He warned that any attempt to annihilate the distinctiveness of the Chins and other minority peoples of Burma would be met with continuing resistance. Any future constitution of the Union of Burma could only succeed if it was based on genuine federalism and adherence to the articles of the Panglong Accord, he said.

    The stated political objectives of the Chin National Front include the attainment of self-determination and democracy within a genuine federal republic of the Union of Burma.

    Sai Wansai of the steering committee of the UNPO told the Burma Courier that the organization does not involve itself in the goal setting of national member organizations. He said the UNPO has members with political programs ranging from cultural autonomy to outright independence.
    Agriculture sector hit by sky-high oil and gas prices

    Burma Courier No. 279( Jul 15 - 21, 2001)

    Based on news items in the Myanmar Times and NLM: Updated to July 16, 2001

    RANGOON- The steep rise in the world prices for oil and natural gas over the past year has caused serious setbacks to expansion plans for the key agricultural sector of Burma’s economy.

    This is particularly evident in the price of nitrogen based fertilizers in which urea is a basic component. Natural gas serves as the key component in the production of urea and the price of a 50 kg bag of urea imported from China has risen to 4,800 kyat from 2,800 kyat a year ago.Other mixed fertilizers in which nitrogen is a component are also much more expensive this year.

    An article in this week’s Myanmar Times reports that the China-made GTSP brand had risen to K4,800 for a 50-kilogram bag, up from K3,100 last year. The cost of a bag of China-made GSSP brand had risen from K1,600 to K2,500.

    Major importers of fertilizer all report that sales are sluggish this year with the weak demand attributed to a variety of factors, including higher prices. Some traders say sales are down by more than half over the same period last year. Shu San Trading Enterprise, was down to 1,000 bags a day from between 2-5,000 bags last year. Weak sales were also reported by Let Yway Zin Family Trading company where manager U Htun Oo told the Times, "Last year, we could sell about 2,000 bags a day, but this year only 200 to 300 bags." U Htun Oo said.

    The three State-owned fertilizer factories which distribute their products under a quota system cannot meet the needs of the farming sector. This has benefited fertilizer products from China, which are available more cheaply due to lower transport costs than products imported from such countries as Indonesia, Kuwait, Russia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

    The lowest rice prices in a decade are partly to blame for the sales slump, said U San Win of Shu San Trading Enterprise. "Even though the price of paddy rose recently to about K600 a basket, from K350 a basket about four months ago, this is not enough to realize a profit." He said. rice production was likely to be affected if farmers could not meet their fertilizer needs.

    Ambitious plans for the expansion of farm land through the reclamation of vacant and waste lands has also suffered cut backs due to elimination of subsidized diesel used for the heavy equipment used for clearing purposes.

    Over the last two years nineteen private companies have been given concessions to cultivate oil palm on a total of 480,000 acres in the Mergui (Myeik), Tavoy (Dawei) and Kawthoung districts of Tenasserim division in a bid to reduce dependence on imported cooking oil. But the private oil palm projects are "standing still," an official of the state-owned Myanma Perennial Crop Enterprise told MT.

    U Kyaw Zaw Aung of Dagon Timber, one of the companies involved, said that during the first year they had been able to get diesel supplied from the government for land clearing but last year it was unavailable so companies had to turn to the black market for their supply.

    The cost of imported equipment was also weighing down heavily on the companies many of which are new to the plantation and oil extraction businesses. "We have spent more than 3.400 billion and we can not estimate how much more we will have to invest," said a source representing both the Yuzana and Annawa companies. Yuzana, which was expected to have 35,000 acres under cultivation by 2002, has planted oil palms on only 10,400, and Annawa, which has a target of 20,000 acres has 3,300 acres planted.

    Another obstacle to meeting cultivation targets was getting enough workers to clear virgin land. "We are looking for workers across the country," said Kyaw Zaw Aung adding that weather conditions in the project area were bad. "The workers are paid K500 to K800 a day but many do not stay long and shift to better paid jobs," he said.

    Last year Burma imported 110,000 metric tons of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. With the price on Kuala Lumpur commodity market price up by more than 40% this year and now at US$ 1,040 a tonne, prices at the consumer level have risen sharply. Nationally, the total edible oil consumption comes to about 500,000 metric tons a year.

    A visit this week by Secretary No 1 to land reclamation projects undertaken by several large construction and trading companies in Pwintbyu, Minbu and Salin townships in Magwe division showed a similar scaling back in targets. If reports in the state press are to be believed there have even cutbacks in cultivated acreage on some projects. A year ago, Dagon International was reported to have cleared 4,800 acres for the planting of mustard, pedisein, pesinngon and sesamum on land it had reclaimed in the Chaungzon region of Pwintbyu township. This year it reported that it was only planting on 3,400 acres and making all its own arrangements for water supply.
    Malaysia petronas set to take control premier oil

    Burma Courier No. 279 (Jul 15 - 21, 2001)

    Based on news from AFX and Asia Pulse: Updated to July 18, 2001.

    LONDON - Malaysia’s national oil company, Petronas, is rumoured to be on the way to becoming the majority shareholder in Britain’s Premier Oil. This would put it in effective control of the Yetagun gas project in Myanmar waters of the Andaman sea.

    The rumour-mill has again thrown up the suggestion that Amerada Hess Corp which has a 25 pct stake in Premier Oil may be about to sell its stake in the British oil junior to Petronas, which has a similar size interest in Premier.

    Richard Slape, analyst at Charles Stanley, said such a deal couldn't be ruled out, but pointed out the rumours had been around for a while. "However, something needs to happen to Premier, because the current structure is a problem," he said.

    "We will neither confirm nor deny such rumours," said a spokesman for Amerada Hess.

    "We haven't heard anything to suggest such a deal is taking place," said a spokesman for Premier Oil. He said reports of a 'crunch' board meeting at Premier Oil in the coming weeks were unfounded. "Premier has regular board meetings every couple of months and I don't know why this one should be 'crunch'," he said.

    Premier, which is the operator of the Yetagun field, has a 26.67% stake in the consortium that holds the concesssion. Petronas has a 30% stake in Yetagun. If Petronas takes a majority position in Premier, it will effectively have the largest stake in the project.

    Malaysian PM Mahathir spent time at the Yetagun site during a "working holiday" in southern Tenasserim in January.

    Meanwhile Indonesia’s state oil and gas company, Pertamina, has announced that it will spend US$ 10 million to start expansion of operations in other countries in Asia and Africa. Pertamina President Baihaki Hakim said recently the company would take part in oil and gas explorations in Vietnam, Myanmar, Iraq and Libya.

    Two Indonesian juniors are already engaged on inland sites in Myanmar. Exspan has a profit sharing exploration concession in the Ohndwe and Padaukpin-Monnatkon areas of Magwe township, while Goldwater Oil is engaged in a recovery project on the Mann field.
    Singapore fire Killed three Burmese

    The Straits Times
    By Selina Lum

    Wood and zinc shelters house many foreign workers including 3 Myanmar nationals who died on Sunday

    THREE brick-making companies own the land in Jurong Road Track 22 and Jalan Lam Sam, where many foreign workers live in unauthorised housing.

    It was here on Sunday that three workers from Myanmar died when their makeshift home of wood and zinc sheets was razed by fire.

    Asia Brick Factory in Jalan Lam Sam and Goh Bee Brick Works in Jurong Road Track 20 declined to comment when The Straits Times visited their offices yesterday. The representative for the third company, Jurong Brick Works, was unavailable for comment.

    A construction company operating in Jalan Lam Sam said that it rented the land from Jurong Brick Works. An employee at its main office in Serangoon said that it used the space to store equipment and house workers.

    No-one could explain why workers were living in the area. Some answers may be provided soon when the issue of safety guidelines and minimum standards for workers' quarters is raised in Parliament next Wednesday.

    Their employer, Seng Chia Boo, 45, was charged in court on Tuesday for illegal employment. He has been remanded for further investigations. According to sources, there are foreign workers living in similar unauthorised structures in other parts of Singapore, such as Tuas and Ponggol.

    These workers belonged to small-time contractors who did not have their own construction sites to accommodate the workers or found it cheaper to house them at such unauthorised sites.

    Checks by The Straits Times in the last two days found over 20 pockets of makeshift living quarters spread out around Jurong Road Track 22.These were made of wood-and-zinc huts or sheds, some built next to corroded containers stacked on top of another.Construction materials, such as timber, tiles, scaffolding and pipes, were also stored in these quarters.Gas stoves could be found close to where the workers slept.

    Sunday's fire was the third in the area in four months. Just four days earlier, there was another fire at a similar workers' quarters about 1 km away. In March, a fire tore through four containers at a scaffolding company, causing 24 Indian nationals to lose all their belongings.

    The squalid conditions they lived in are a contrast to hostels that have been built for foreign workers in other parts of the island.L&M Group Investments Ltd, for example, built a $13-million dormitory complex in Kaki Bukit Avenue 4 which houses up to 3,000 people.
    Suu Kyi rains on Rangoon's parade

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Aung San Suu Kyi's absence from a ceremony to mark the assassination of her father and other leaders was a political statement showing her unhappiness with the Burmese military junta, said a pro-democracy leader.

    "The fact that she didn't attend is a signal that she isn't happy with the junta, whose attempts such as the release of political prisoners are merely to create a favourable image and make them eligible for financial aid," said Maung Maung Aye, a senior member of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

    The NCGUB is an anti-junta coalition based at the Thai-Burmese border.

    The Martyrs' Day ceremony at the Shwedagon Pagoda was lacklustre this year and even senior figures from the military junta-the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)-failed to attend.

    The Burmese democracy leader has been held under house arrest since last September, before opening talks with the government on a possible national reconciliation dialogue.

    Maung Maung Aye said if Rangoon had been sincere, it would have released some 1,500 political prisoners including Min Ko Naing, former chairman of All Burma Federal Students Union.

    The release of 51 people arrested last September had no merit because they should not have been held in the first place, said U Maung Maung Aye, speaking at the border area opposite Tak.

    The freed political prisoners were arrested last September as they were seeing off Mrs Suu Kyi as she left Rangoon to meet members of the National League for Democracy.

    Maung Maung Aye said the military junta had yet to schedule a meeting with UN special representative, Razali Ismail, expected in Rangoon this month.

    The junta had not really pushed for talks with the NLD to put an end to the conflict, he said.

    Karen National Union president Pado U Ba Thin Sein backed talks between the State Peace and Development Council and the National League for Democracy.

    He said if the dialogue yielded fruit it might pave the way for three-party talks between SPDC, NLD and minority rebel groups.

    The Karen National Union held talks with the SPDC in 1996, which collapsed when Rangoon demanded they lay down arms.

    Meanwhile, a senior NLD official said Mrs Suu Kyi had decided on her own not to attend the ceremony.

    Diplomats in Rangoon said her absence meant there was not much progress in the talks between the NLD and SPDC.

    The military junta said it was a pity that Mrs Suu Kyi did not show up, as reconciliation looked promising.